Faces Of The Boom: Bismarck Man Aims To Bridge Gap Between Conservation, Oil Industry

Terry Fleck, pictured in his home office in Bismarck with walleye he caught in Lake Sakakawea, is helping energy companies and conservation groups work together to protect the North Dakota outdoors. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

BISMARCK, N.D. – When Terry Fleck goes fishing or hunting, he aims to leave the area better than how he found it.

That’s the same attitude the Bismarck man hopes oil and gas companies will have about development in North Dakota.

Fleck spent 30 years in the radio and television industry and retired to become a public speaker known as The Attitude Doctor.

Now Fleck is using his skills as a communicator to bring together the oil industry with outdoor and wildlife groups to promote energy development while minimizing the impact to the state he loves.

“We would hope that North Dakota is a better place after this, if and when it ends,” he said.

Fleck, both an avid outdoorsman and a partner in an energy company, believes there’s room for both interests in the state. He brought together oil companies and wildlife and conservation groups to form the Sporting and Oil Industry Forum, which has developed best practices for the industry to follow and continues to meet regularly.

“We have much to protect. This is a unique part of the world,” said Fleck, originally from the small town of Flasher. “How do we protect those quiet places and make sure we still have some?”

Fleck has a front-row seat to the oil boom from his lake home on the Van Hook Arm of Lake Sakakawea, where he has watched oilfield traffic become more intense and job opportunities expand for his neighbors.

“That’s where my understanding and my background came from in watching my friends and neighbors at the lake who lived in the Bakken suddenly begin to experience tremendous lifestyle changes,” he said.

Fleck, who calls himself a “fanatic fisherman,” serves as chairman of Friends of Lake Sakakawea, which helped push for the oil industry to develop the Sakakawea Area Spill Response.

He is a partner in Intervention Energy, a privately held non-operating oil and gas company started by Minot, N.D., native John Zimmerman, Fleck’s former neighbor.

Fleck also serves as the volunteer chairman of the North Dakota Energy Forum, a group committed to improving the understanding of oil and gas development in the state.

That varied background is what helped Fleck see the need to help bridge the gap between industry and outdoor and wildlife groups. The group will have its fourth meeting in March.

“My belief is we will accomplish more and will have a greater end result if we all stay at the table,” Fleck said. “Is that going to be easy? No. We wouldn’t exist if it were going to be easy.”

Terry Steinwand, director of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said he can’t think of a better facilitator than Fleck to get oil companies and conservation groups working together.

“To get those very diametrically different missions together in the same room, I think that was a task in itself,” Steinwand said.

Participation has remained strong from both sides, and Steinwand said he expects the group to keep moving in the right direction.

“This has some staying power,” he said.

By setting an example and communicating their passion for the state, outdoorsmen and women can help the oil industry minimize its footprint on the land, Fleck said.

“I’m a guy who believes given the passion that we all have for this, that we can make this work,” he said.